In the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the story is told of a man of science who goes against the laws of nature to create a being so monstrous he cannot control it. In the novel, a mad scientist determines he is going to introduce something new and wonderful, better than nature, to the world and in the end produces something that ultimately destroys his entire family. Frankenstein Science refers to this concept of undertaking a scientific endeavor while having little to no concept of what might ultimately be produced.
Victor Frankenstein, the main protagonist in the novel, takes the concept of new technology to its ultimate limit in trying to determine ways in which death can be overcome by developing a means of re-animating lifeless matter. While he was creating his creature, he could only envision something beautiful and wonderful despite the fact that his instructors had warned him of the unnatural teachings of those ‘pseudo-scientists’ he had admired in his earlier years. “The ancient teachers of this science,’ said he [Frankenstein’s first professor], ‘promised impossibilities, and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted, and that the elixir of life is a chimera” (40). He purposefully and intentionally turned his back on the natural world as a means of concentrating on discovering the secret of bringing life to inanimate material, a process in which he was “forced to spend days and night in vaults and charnel-houses. My attention was fixed upon every object the most insupportable to the delicacy of the human feelings” (45) while “my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature” (49).
Shelley structures her novel around some of the more concerning features of her time period, primarily the emergence of the factory and the machines that were replacing human workers in what was becoming a frightening question regarding the worth of a human. Despite the few warnings he’d received and the obvious challenge to the natural order of things, Frankenstein continued his search for deep knowledge, continued to work on the creature he had started, continued to envision it as a beautiful thing that would give all homage to him and remained unable to foresee the true nature of what he was doing until it was too late and the living monster stood facing him in all its horrendous grotesqueness.
This concept is very relevant to today’s world in that scientists are still playing with forces they do not fully understand. Creating children in test tubes, experimenting with what has become known as ‘designer babies’ and attempting to unravel the mysteries of the genetic code are all modern day examples of Frankestein’s project. They are all geared toward improving nature, building something better, stronger, more aesthetically appealing. Cloning is another example of how scientists are entering into fields whose outcomes cannot be known. While they all profess to have only the best of intentions for the human race, none of them truly know where their investigations will lead them or how their subsequent discoveries might be released into the world. As a result, all of these types of sciences must be considered Frankenstein Science.
Shelley, Mary. The Essential Frankenstein. Leonard Wolf (Ed.). New York: Simon & Schuester, 2004.